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Car reviews - Audi - A3 - Sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Quintessential Audi styling, fuel economy of all variants, quattro grip, lively 1.4 TFSI handling
Room for improvement
No diesel quattro combo, slinky S line package not available for 1.4 TFSI

24 Jan 2014

You would be forgiven for thinking the new A3 offering from Audi was simply the current Sportback with a modified rear-end. But place the two cars side-by-side and it becomes clear that not one panel is typical to both.

Under the skin, it’s a different story: with the exception of the hatch-only 1.6-litre diesel option, the sedan range shares the same powertrains. Also as per the Sportback range, the flagship 1.8 TFSI quattro gets four-wheel drive grip.

The first of our test-cars was this top-performing (for now) 1.8 TFSI quattro with both the technology-rich Technik and stylish S line packages tacked on to, take the $47,800 starting price up to $56,140.

Audi has got the styling spot-on with this A3, and sitting on RS4 resembling 18-inch matt-black alloy wheels and 15mm lowed suspension, the little four-door looks the biz.

We particularly liked the notch which follows the line of each wheel-arch and an elegant roofline that ties the bonnet and new boot together, with proportions and scale very reminiscent of the very first Audi A4 of the 90s.

Jumping aboard revealed the changes the S Line package has on the interior, with sports seats covered in perforated alcantara, a flat-bottomed thick-rimmed steering-wheel and black roof-lining all fitted for the $4200 option.

The sports-seats provided excellent comfort, support and with a firmness as is typical to Audi interiors, white stitching and matching white fabric peeped through the sporty looking perforations and imparted a very high-quality feel to the cabin.

The dash continued the same quality with a more understated approach and simple design laid out in dark inoffensive tones using top-quality materials.

All variants get a good sized screen that rises silently from the dash when the ignition is switched on vehicles, but with top-spec MMI equipment (Audi’s term for the entertainment and information kit) get a larger screen with higher resolution.

A touch-sensitive pad is incorporated in to the top of a centre-console mounted dial which allows occupants in the front seats to enter commands by simply drawing/writing shapes and letters.

This is, quite literally, a nice touch but we couldn’t help thinking the idea was conceived in a left-had drive country where most people are right-handed.

Lesser variants of the A3 sedan don’t get as much in the way of equipment or style, but the cabin is still a nice place to be regardless of spec, and while the partly imitation-leather covered seats didn’t quite fool us, they looked and felt fine.

Base variants don’t get satellite navigation but annoyingly the ‘NAV’ button is still present, and displays a frustrating reminder on the screen that someone didn’t pay for the Technik pack.

There were some great features in even the base variant though. We liked the clever idea to cut a smart-phone accommodating slot in to one of the cup-holders, and the retro-styled air-vents that were fun to play with.

In the back seats the extra interior space over the A3 Sportback was welcome with just enough head and legroom for a 188cm passenger and the seats were as snug as the front, but the C-pillar did encroach a little on the view.

On the road the 1.8 TFSI Quattro had all the confidence inspiring grip that one associates with the 30-year quattro badge even in very wet and slippery conditions.

Chucking the all-paw sedan in to any corner and at some enthusiastic speeds caused no complaint or qualm from any corner with power being shared around seamlessly. Uninterrupted progress was the only indication the quattro system was at work.

The lowered sport suspension resisted rolling through both fast and slow, tight bends but conspired with the low-profile 225/40 Continental rubber to transmit a little more road noise in to the cabin than we would prefer.

With 132kW and 280Nm of torque the 1.8 turbo four-cylinder engine didn’t quite deliver the effervescent performance the tricked-up and lowered Audi seemed to promise with its looks.

Progress was never tedious but power could be best described as adequate and nothing more. Doubtless the scorching S3 sedan will appease the petrol-heads when it arrives.

The 2.0-litre TDI version however delivered exactly what one might expect with 320Nm of torque from a barely off-idle 1750rpm.

The four-pot oil-burner was so solid and refined only the abundant pulling-power served as a reminder it was the diesel version, and even when revved to the red-line there were no unpleasant rattles or knocks.

The TDI option also brings the best fuel economy of the range using a head-scratching 4.5 litres of diesel per 100km.

It’s a shame the 2.0-litre diesel is only available as a front-wheel drive because the combination of range-leading fuel-efficiency with torque-taming four-wheel drive would have made a TDI quattro option a real winner.

That said – the two driven wheels didn’t struggle to find traction unless deliberately provoked and mid-corner grip was very good in all variants.

Without the sport suspension, roll became a little more apparent, but the vibration-absorbing ability of the standard suspension and comfort improved too.

Last of the cars on trial was the entry level 1.4 TFSI and it was here that we got the biggest surprise.

The smallest engine might be down 0.4-litres on the 1.8 TFSI and 29 kilowatts but it manages to push out the same amount of torque as the non-quattro 1.8-litre, with 250Nm on tap.

Combine that impressive figure with an engine which has just shed 19kg thanks to a new alloy cylinder-block and you have a very lively little package on your hands.

Devoid of a heavy engine and four-wheel drive system, the cheapest A3 sedan weighs a whopping 145kg less than the top of the range 1.8 TFSI quattro.

Out and about that weight-saving becomes very obvious.

Acceleration might not be up there with the more expensive options but considering it only had 1.4-litres to boogie with, the entry level Audi felt more sprightly than an 8.4 second zero to 100km/h dash sounds.

In corners though the 1.4 TFSI was a delight with rapid turn-in, good feel through the electric power-steering and lively almost skippy road-holding.

The smaller 17-inch wheels with higher profile Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres cut interior road noise dramatically without sacrificing too much grip.

The lightweight feel constantly begged for a couple of clicks on the downshift paddle, whereas the more expensive variants encouraged a more sedate rate of progress.

What made it all the more enjoyable was the knowledge that, if you backed off the throttle, you could cruise along with justified environmental smugness using just 4.7 litres of fuel every 100km.

All engine options are bolted on to Audi’s well-known double-clutch ‘S tronic’ automatic transmission with the lesser 1.4 and 1.8-litre versions getting seven gears and dry-clutches, while the torquey quattro and diesel engines need six gears and oil-emersed wet-clutches.

Both breeds worked very well dealing with the available power efficiently, and intuitively changed their behaviour according to the driving style.

A manual gearbox would perfectly suit the involving character of the 1.4 TFSI and might push the asking price even further towards the sub-premium brands that Audi is targeting.

Audi’s smallest sedan is great fun, well priced and put together as well as you would expect from the German maker.

All variants have adequate performance but from a performance versus price perspective, we thought the entry-level 1.4 TFSI was unbeatable value and the standout of the range.

It’s a shame the delicious S Line package is not available for the cheapest version because dressed up in alcantara and big wheels, the frugal but fun 1.4 TFSI three-box Audi would simply tick all the boxes.

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